Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Interdisciplinary Education

Major Professor

Lou M. Carey, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Ellen Kimmel, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ann E. Barron, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kathryn Borman, Ph.D.


reflection, david a. kolb, mental rehearsal, emotional processing, depth of processing, goal setting, priming, group development, grounded theory, content analysis


The purpose of this study was to explore the nature of cognitive and emotional processes during the three reflective stages of the experiential learning cycle of experiential activities using written debriefings. The study examined three written debriefings from five senior-level undergraduate management students enrolled in a business management course. The debriefings consisted of four to five free-response questions modeled after Kolb’s experiential learning cycle: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. The study triangulated results using two qualitative methods, a grounded theory analysis and a content analysis. In the grounded theory analysis, two process maps were developed from the debriefings. A learning process map identified four stages of learning: introduction, mental rehearsal, abstraction, and priming. A group process map identified four stages of group experiential activities: problem-solving, consensus building, reactions, and resolution. The group decision-making process was seen to follow four paths: agreement, teamwork, conflict or confusion. A possible moderating variable, prior group affiliation, affected the persistence of the groups in finding satisfactory solutions when encountering conflict, or confusion. Six themes emerged from the grounded analysis: iterative reflection, richness of connections, attachment of personal reactions, role of writing in debriefings, fluid group development, and the role of affiliation. In the content analysis, three raters coded the debriefings using seven variables: content, process, connections, context, affect, relevance, and intent. Growth was seen between the first half and second half of debriefings for all variables, and the presence and intensity of variables was highest for all variables except content during the last stage of the experiential learning cycle, active experimentation. The amount of content present in debriefings was highest during the third stage, abstract conceptualization. The results of this study may provide insight into the mental processes that occur in written reflection and help instructors design experiential learning debriefings.